We first meet Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a thirty-something woman who is broke and the owner of a failing business, when she is on fragile terms with her family, fluctuating through romantic relationships, and so deeply ingrained with grief that she carries around with her at all times. We learn very early on that she has tragically lost her best friend, Boo (Jenny Rainsford), with whom she opened her guinea pig-themed cafe, in an incident that she deems to be her fault. Boo’s death leaves Fleabag grief-stricken, and brings out memories of the loss of her mother a few years back. Both of these events have shaped her into the person we get to know through the twelve episodes of the show, for better or for worse. As the show goes on, Fleabag navigates through her fragile relationships with the rest of her family. When she tries to compensate for the loneliness she is feeling, she is only met with distance from her father. On top of that, she has to deal with the insufferable woman who is now her stepmother (Olivia Colman). On top of that, Fleabag’s love life is tumultuous, and for the most part, unsuccessful. She entertains a relationship with Harry (Hugh Skinner), breaking up with him ever so often when she gets bored of him or when he doesn’t satisfy her. But when the loneliness becomes too much to bear, and she needs the ease and informality of this relationship, she gets back together with him at the cost of passion.
When Fleabag does fall truly in love, it is with the wrong person. Amongst preparations for her father and godmother’s wedding, she takes a liking to the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott), who asks her genuine questions, is interested in spending time with her, and matches her cunning banter. The concept of his faith, which Fleabag doesn’t share and is often poking fun at, brings up all sorts of complicated feelings within her. The Priest is a challenging person for her. Upon spending time with him, she is confronted with someone whose faith lies in humanity first, who is willing to support people and make it his lifelong dedication, which makes her lack of faith seem even starker. Meanwhile, the Priest says he appreciates her for making him question his faith, saying he has “never felt closer to God.” But when the two of them get too close, he finds himself at a crossroads, compelled to choose between his faith and the woman he has fallen in love with. Their chemistry is undeniable, but eventually the Priest puts his faith first and leaves Fleabag behind, assuring her that the love she has for him will pass.
Despite most of her relationships ending terribly, Fleabag is an impressively personable person, perhaps because of how well-meaning and charismatic she is. Thus, she ends up making unexpected friends, like with her bank manager, who shows up for her in her most desperate times, and lends a helping hand when she needs it the most, even going as far as buying her a guinea pig — a hamster, in reality— for her cafe. During her encounter with Belinda (Kristin Scott Thomas), a successful “woman in business,” Fleabag is finally matched with someone who appreciates her humour and greatly values her opinions. They have a passionate, genuine conversation about female pain, and Belinda, being older than Fleabag, promises her that it does “get better” and that she needs to rely on the people in her life, because they are all she has. And they are. The connections established between the characters, whether they be friends, family, or acquaintances, are at the very core of the show.
Listen. People are all we’ve got. People are all we’ve got, so grab the night by its nipples and go and flirt with someone.”-Belinda (Kristin Scott Thomas), Fleabag
The strongest and possibly the most complicated relationship in the series is between Fleabag and her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). Claire is a prudish woman who takes herself very seriously, and Fleabag often seeks validation from and proximity to her. Their bond is not without fault, what with the grief they’ve dealt with, their respective pride, and several occurrences of miscommunication. Nevertheless, their vibrant, complex dynamic leads Fleabag to a lot of emotional growth and introduces us to the comedic powerhouse that is Claire. Fleabag inspires Claire to go after what she wants and take control of her life, which includes ending her marriage with Martin (Brett Gelman), a man she no longer loves. Gelman’s portrayal is genius, but Martin is an annoyance for the rest of the characters. In the end, their relationship is the one Fleabag is certain she can count on if all else fails. It is the real “love story” that Fleabag announces at the very beginning of season two. Fleabag is the only person Claire would run through an airport for — as she told her herself — and the sentiment is reciprocated.
The flamboyant cast of characters goes through heartbreak, grief, unbearable family dinners, vain attempts at human connection, fear of failure, and for the most part, universal experiences. The series feels very down to earth, and its relatability is one of its greatest assets. It carries out a message of hope. It is a show that comes out and tells it like it is: no one, no matter how put together they seem — not even Claire, who’s an incredibly successful woman, and whose office is huge — has it all figured out. Fleabag is the first to fit that description. From the first episode on, the main character constantly breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience when she is alone, and sometimes even in the middle of a conversation with someone else. While disconcerting at first, this signature mechanism of hers lets us in on her thoughts, comments that would be too inappropriate to say out loud, and running jokes that have been established just between her and the audience. This makes the viewing experience that much more intimate and personal, but it is also a testament to her mental state at the time. In doing so, Fleabag distances herself from her surroundings. She feels most comfortable speaking to the camera — to herself essentially, seeing as the audience can’t answer — than to the people around her.
However, at the very end of the series, followed closely by the camera, Fleabag turns around and shakes her head, confident in the knowledge that she can safely walk the rest of her journey on her own. Not everything is resolved — she still has to deal with her grief — and the progress she has made in her relationships can be fallible. Still,we root for her every step of the way, and a great deal of satisfaction and hope can be found in watching her achieve this kind of peace and stability within herself, as well as with the people around her.